It was the last news I was expecting – my cat, Cinco, had dangerously high blood pressure. How could it be? How did I not know? He had been running, jumping, and playing like he was a kitten just a few days earlier. High blood pressure in cats can be just as serious (and sneaky) an issue as it is in their human counterparts. Here are 5 important things you should know about high blood pressure in cats.
Title Image Credit: Public Domain from Pixabay
#1 Cats have a higher “normal” blood pressure than humans do.
Just like in humans, blood pressure in cats is a measure of the pressure that a cat’s blood is putting on the walls of their blood vessels. Typically, a blood pressure measurement is displayed as Systolic pressure /Diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the pressure when the heart is beating and diastolic pressure is the pressure when the heart is at rest.
At the veterinarian’s office, a small blood pressure cuff will be placed either around your cat’s leg or near the base of their tail. Testing for your cat’s blood pressure will be much like testing for your blood pressure. The veterinarian will use a stethoscope to listen to your cat’s pulse as the pressure of the cuff stops the blood flow and when the blood flow becomes normal again. This is a painless test that will be repeated several times to ensure the accuracy of the measurement.
As a human, a normal blood pressure reading would be about 120/80. According to PetMD, the standards for a cat’s blood pressure look more like the following:
The cat is at minimal risk and there is no need for treatment.
- 150/99 – 159/95
Intervention is not recommended.
- 160/119 – 179/100
At this point, treatment should be sought.
Immediate treatment is needed.
To simplify, a house cat’s normal blood pressure is around 159/95.
#2 High blood pressure is commonly a secondary problem in cats.
When my veterinarian saw that Cinco’s blood pressure had gone over 200 on the systolic end, she knew immediately that Cinco had some major medical problems going on. She did test after test and after a few hours, Cinco was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma. Cinco’s high blood pressure was a symptom of his disease.
High blood pressure in cats, also called hypertension, is most often a secondary disease. This means that high blood pressure is being caused by another disease. In humans, high blood pressure is commonly primary, or a disease existing without an underlying cause, but this is not so with cats.
Which diseases are most likely to cause high blood pressure in cats? Kidney disease and Hyperthyroidism top the list. Diabetes, heart ailments, and sometimes even hormone-producing tumors can cause high blood pressure in cats too. Gender and breed do NOT appear to be factors for cats with secondary high blood pressure, but the risk does seem to increase with age. Genetic factors can come into play IF the high blood pressure is a primary disease.
#3 There are 4 major systems in your cat’s body affected by high blood pressure.
My heart sank into my stomach (figuratively) as my veterinarian went through her tests to confirm that Cinco’s blood pressure was really as high as it had been testing. She checked his eyes. Blood vessels in his eyes had burst and his retinas had all but detached. It was true and it wasn’t just his anxiety. Cinco’s blood pressure had been high for quite some time. By the next morning, Cinco’s eyes were covered in the light blue veil of blindness. We found out the hard way that a cat’s eyes are greatly affected by their blood pressure.
There are 4 major bodily systems in cats that are most affected blood pressure:
- The eyes
- The kidneys
- The Cardiovascular System
- The Nervous system
The symptoms of high blood pressure in cats are not always easy to see without proper testing. Often any symptoms that are seen will be those of the primary disease that is causing the high blood pressure. At earlier stages of high blood pressure in cats, symptoms may be:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Increased thirst and urination
- Dull coat
High blood pressure can become a medical emergency for a cat. It can cause leaking and even rupturing of blood vessels. As the severity of the high blood pressure increases, the symptoms may be:
- Retinal detachment
- Hemorrhage of the eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Involuntary rolling of the eyes
- Head tilt
- Bleeding from the nose
- Weakness on either side of the body
- Difficulty walking
- Palpable thyroid gland in hyperthyroid cats
- Blood in the urine
- Protein in the urine
- Swollen or shrunken kidneys
- Heart murmurs
#4 High blood pressure in cats can be managed.
Cinco’s story is an extreme one. Unfortunately, his condition was one in which the most humane decision we could make was to have him put to sleep. Most cats with high blood pressure have manageable conditions and will live normal lives. Taking your cat to the veterinarian every year (or even every 6 months) will help you to monitor your cat’s blood pressure and catch high blood pressure in earlier stages.
Note: If you think your cat may have high blood pressure or any other medical problem, contact your veterinarian so that you can get an accurate evaluation of the problem.
Along with medications, your veterinarian may suggest some lifestyle changes for your cat, if high blood pressure is diagnosed. Those changes include:
- Losing weight.
If your cat is overweight, a change in diet and exercise might be just enough to keep their blood pressure under control.
- Getting more exercise.
Time to get out those toys and play with your kitty! Just a few minutes of interactive playtime every day can make a big difference.
- Reduce stress in your cat’s environment.
Cats can be stressed out about a number of things in our homes – noise, lack of regular feeding schedule, other cats or pets, stressed out humans, strange smells, and more. Finding out what is bothering your cat and adjusting their environment can help a lot.
Integrative veterinarians (those that also use natural remedies) may suggest supplements such as Krill Oil or alternative therapies for cats with high blood pressure. Dr. Karen Becker of Mercola Pets says that electrical acupuncture can lower a cat’s blood pressure by up to 50%!
#5 Calming your cat can help get a better blood pressure reading.
Many cats become stressed and anxious when seeing the veterinarian. This extra stress can make your cat’s blood pressure appear to be higher than it really is, which is known as “White Coat Hypertension”. Your veterinarian will take several blood pressure readings and average them so that they can come as close to what your cat’s actual blood pressure reading should be as possible.
There are a few things that you can do to help your cat be calmer during their visit to the vet and thus help your veterinarian to get an accurate blood pressure reading.
- Get your cat used to their carrier and to traveling.
Try leaving your cat’s carrier out in your cats favorite room all of the time so that they can sleep in it when they choose. Practice getting in the carrier and going places in the car. Use treats to make the experience more pleasant and don’t always go to the vet. A little more familiarity might help make the trip a less traumatizing experience.
- Consider a “cats only” veterinary practice.
For some cats, sitting in a veterinary practice that smells like dogs and other animals is very stressful. You can find a veterinary practice that caters to only cats here.
- Use Feliway, a flower essence, or a homeopathic Aconitum.
These substances, when used correctly, can help calm a cat’s anxiety. Call your veterinarian for good tips on using substances like these to calm your cat.